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Homer remained the benchmark for all ‘eloquence’ throughout antiquity – his epic
poems recalled distant past and his heroes sang of ancient great men and their deeds,
and so ‘history’/tales of the past was respected.
‘Logographers’ told tales but weren’t accurate etc. Herodotus, ‘The Father of History’
wrote about the origins of the Persian War (that he was born during) and recorded
real and dodgy tales from the many lands he toured. His easy-reading style was followed
by Thucydides’ more rigorous and more linear history of ‘The Peloponnesian War’ (431-404
BC) that he fought in. He explored causes too, and also included invented dialogues
which were acceptable within history-writing of the time. Thucydides (‘pithy, concise
and hastening forward’ acc.to Quintilian) and Herodotus (‘pleasing, clear and wide-ranging’)
remain well-respected throughout antiquity. Xenophon was novel in his approach and
Hellenistic historians after Alexander the Great’s empire spread Greek culture
around the Eastern Med abounded thanks to the patronage of Hellenistic monarchs and
their great libraries (Alexandria in Egypt in 200s BC and Pergamon’s in Asia Minor).
Once literature reached Rome in late 200s BC, Roman historians were swift to fit
Rome’s history into the Greek tradition of history-writing, and did so in Greek to
retain authority for the genre and to spread the word of Rome’s antiquity and power. Cato
the Censor (234-149 BC) was the first historian to write in Latin. Ennius (much
respected by Romans) followed with his Latin narrative poem of the history of the
Roman people from the Fall of Troy. Sources for Roman history were the poorly preserved/recorded
annals (tablets recording each year’s events, as inscribed by the year’s pontifex
maximus), and previous historians.
Polybius wrote in Greek on the rapid Rise of the Roman Empire, to understand/explain
how this happened. He wrote much on how history must contain the truth and historians
must test their sources, and must have experience in military and politics to write
Sallust wrote with his own, new agenda on moral corruption, in his new monographs
on smaller scale history. Julius Caesar wrote his Gallic War to promote his own
success. Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote in Greek to persuasively spread the word
of Roman virtues and Rome’s Greek origins.
Cicero mourned the continuing lack of a definitive Roman History written by a Roman
in Latin; Livy soon wrote his 142 books so well that no one else could compete but
his priorities were style and ease of reading and inspiration for moral virtue (versus
the decline of it in his tale), not accuracy of fact.
Tacitus later wrote his history of the early imperial family (a great source for
Robert Graves’ I, Claudius’) but rejected traditional grand scale history for the
depressing intrigues of ‘palace’ life.
All historians considered their work to last for ever, to be read and re-read.